AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Texas expected tough games from UCLA and Villanova.
Texas State? Not so much, at least not until the sixth-ranked Longhorns found themselves trailing midway through the second half before pulling out a tough 81-73 victory Saturday.
A.J. Abrams scored 30 points, including 13 of Texas’ final 16, as the Longhorns pulled away late in a lackluster performance on the heels of two wins over the Bruins and Wildcats, also members of the Top 25.
“Some guys weren’t ready to get it done,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “I let them know that after the game.”
Cameron Johnson scored 24 points for Texas State (3-5), a school 30 miles down Interstate 35 which hasn’t beaten Texas (8-1) since 1937, although the Bobcats and Longhorns didn’t play each other for nearly 50 years before resuming the series in 1995.
The Bobcats, who rank among the worst teams in the country in points allowed so far this season, held Texas to 36 percent shooting, outrebounded the Longhorns 46-42 and their reserves outscored Texas’ 43-12.
They even held Abrams without a field goal for the first 15 minutes of the second half before the senior finally stepped up to put the game away.
Abrams, who has averaged 29 points in Texas’ last three games, broke out of his second-half slump with a basket, a steal and a 3-pointer to spark a late run and then put it away from the free throw line down the stretch.
“A win is a win. I think we have some guys who could have played better, but not everybody is going to play their best every game,” Abrams said.
One Longhorn who did was 6-foot-10, 300-pound forward Dexter Pittman, who scored a career-high 17 points and had 10 rebounds despite playing just 14 minutes because of foul trouble.
“He fought fatigue,” Barnes said. “Dexter is a force to be reckoned with.”
Texas led 10-0 before Texas State rallied behind Brent Benson, an ultra-quick guard who had 16 points in the first half. Benson scored 14 of the Bobcats’ first 18 points and put Texas State up 18-17 with a layup.
The Longhorns’ offense went into a deep slump after its quick burst. Abrams made all four of his 3-point attempts in the half while his teammates missed several point blank shots. Texas went without a field goal for a 6-minute stretch and led 38-34 at halftime.
“We came out and jumped on them, then started turning the ball over. We thought it was going to be easy,” Barnes said.
Unlike last season, when Texas led the Bobcats by two at halftime and pulled away in the opening minutes of the second half, the Longhorns couldn’t shake them until late in this one.
Pittman missed two layups, Damion James missed another and Texas State took a 50-49 lead on Johnson’s reverse layup with 12:58 to play. Sensing a possible upset, a small group of Texas State fans piled into some empty seats behind the Texas basket to taunt Longhorns players at the free throw line.
“I think, I know, the players in our locker room came in believing we could win this game,” Bobcats coach Doug Davalos said.
What Texas State didn’t have an answer for was Pittman’s size and he was a huge target in the Texas offense when he was on the court. Six straight points by Pittman, including a three-point play, helped put Texas up 61-54.
“Sexy Dexy was on point today,” Abrams said. “We should have given him the ball more.”
But Pittman soon picked up his fourth foul and the Bobcats kept hanging around, cutting the Texas lead to 65-63 on another Johnson layup.
“We pushed the ball on them. Coach told us to keep running, keep running and we could get some easy baskets,” Benson said.
Abrams, who had 15 points in the first half, made his first basket of the second with 4:45 left. Ten seconds later, he stole a pass and quickly dribbled up court before pulling up for his fifth 3-pointer for a 70-63 lead. Six straight free throws by Abrams finally gave Texas its first double-digit lead since the opening minutes.
Abrams also did his job on defense, holding Benson to two points in the second half.
Abrams “shut him down,” Barnes said.
“I don’t expect us to play perfect every time, but there are certain things you should be doing every single night,” Barnes said. “That’s where I get upset with our guys.”